More than 100 faculty members at New York University have signed a petition calling on officials at the institution to publicly condemn the recent arrests in the United Arab Emirates of five democracy activists, including Nasser bin Ghaith, a lecturer who teaches at the Abu Dhabi branch of the University of Paris IV (Paris-Sorbonne). The petition was delivered to John Sexton, NYU’s president, on May 3, and its receipt was acknowledged in a May 24 e-mail by Josh Taylor, the spokesman for NYU Abu Dhabi.
In April, Mr. Taylor had told The Chronicle that the university’s administration would remain silent about the arrests. “We believe that we can have a far greater impact on creating a more informed, responsible, and just world, by creating powerful centers of ideas, discourse, and critical thinking, than by simply firing off a press release,” he said.
In his response last week to the faculty petition, Mr. Taylor said of Mr. bin Ghaith’s detention that “nothing suggests that his arrest was in any way tied to his academic role. Furthermore, I would presume we would agree that there is a distinction between academic freedom and freedom of expression.”
John Archer, a professor of English at NYU and a co-author of the petition, pointed out that “some would agree and some would disagree with that distinction” and said that there had been no indication thus far that Mr. bin Ghaith’s arrest was not in fact related in some way to his teaching. “It’s a possibility,” he said.
Mr. Archer said that the university’s response to the detentions raises questions about how it would react if an NYU faculty member were arrested for exercising freedom of expression, and that “faculty and administrators who consider working in branch campuses should ask similar questions of their institutions.”